Drinkin' and Firin'
Cooley went through sidemen and girl singers like a reaper goes through a wheat field.
He had a temper, and he could get especially surly "under drinkin' conditions," as steel guitarist Speedy West told Kienzle.
He would get drunk, flash with anger over some perceived slight, then fire half the band. The next day, he'd go, cowboy hat in hand, to beg them to come back.
Sometimes they did. Sometimes they didn't.
Bassist Deuce Spriggens and singer Carolina Cotton were married in 1945, and they split off into a new orchestra, taking along several other players with them.
When another singer, Ginny Jackson, gave notice during a rehearsal that she planned to quit the band, Cooley tried to throw her off the Santa Monica pier.
And when Capitol Records offered vocalist Tex Williams his own contract, Williams tried to finesse a financial arrangement that would have benefited both himself and Cooley. He proposed to continue singing with Cooley's band while hiring that same orchestra to back him on his concerts and recordings.
But Spade threw a tantrum, and relations between the men grew icy.
On stage one night before a full house at a San Diego ballroom, Cooley casually handed Williams notice that he was being fired.
Eleven of the 13 band members quit in support of Williams, and most went on to perform as Tex Williams and the Western Caravan, whose hits included "Smoke! Smoke! Smoke! (That Cigarette)."